As a charity committed to preserving vital relationships between prisoners and their families, we welcome the publication of Crest Advisory’s report: ‘Counting the Cost of Maternal Imprisonment’. 

The report, published today, examines the economic impact of maternal imprisonment, as well as the wider – and largely avoidable – social impact on mothers and their children. Inspired by recent research by leading academics, the report is based on in-depth analysis of available data and interviews with statutory and voluntary services and mothers who have been in prison. 

The long-lasting emotional trauma of maternal separation is well-evidenced yet continues to be neither sufficiently recognized nor understood Undoubtedly, this trauma will have been exacerbated by disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw visitation bans across the female estate. The effect of maternal separation on children is arguably more devastating and has far-reaching implications for their future growth and development. 

“I called the youngest up once and she started asking ‘Where are you? Why have you gone? And I literally just broke down and cried. And then I kind of tried to avoid talking to her – it was just a stab in the heart every time I spoke to her. And I didn’t want anyone to come and see me.” 

 Roshni, Mum 

“One of the things I find quite difficult in terms of the emotional response is that their feelings are completely valid, [but] the way that they respond to these situations is often used against them. They have the extra pressure of having to moderate that behaviour because they’re going to be judged for it. So, it could be a social worker or family and they’ll say ‘all she does is scream and shout’, and I’ll say ‘Yeah, but she’s really frustrated.’ It’s [about] trying to get everyone to understand each other. Because it’s all written down on paper ‘this is how mum acts’ and then everyone tells each other, and it can become quite insidious.”  

Family Engagement Worker 

We wholeheartedly agree with the principles for reform outlined by Crest Advisory’s report: 

  • Mothers should only be sent to prison as a last resort. Custodial sentences for non-violent crimes are damaging for families and communities, and as such the Government’s plans to deliver 500 new prison spaces for women run counter to the objectives of the 2018 Female Offender Strategy. 
  • Children affected by maternal imprisonment should be identified by their local authority early in the process and offered specialist support throughout.  
  • Maternal identity and the impact of separation from children must be recognised, understood, and supported by all agencies.  

As Lord Farmer’s 2019 review states, family ties should act as a ‘golden thread’ running through the criminal justice system. This is good for the whole of society, as the Government’s own research shows that people in prison who maintain strong family ties are 39% less likely to re-offend. One of the ways this can be supported is through on-site social workers in prisons to ‘provide a vital link with community social workers who have female prisoners’ children on their caseload’. 

Last year, we secured funding from The Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust to employ two social workers to work across HMP Eastwood Park in Gloucester and HMP Send in Surrey until December 2023. Their focus will be on allowing more intensive support for women, empowering them to engage in matters involving their child, speak for themselves at court, and to understand processes and how to work with them. We are spearheading this work to share practice and know-how, in the expectation that the Government will implement Lord Farmer’s recommendations, which are repeated in the recommendations of this important new report. 

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